Monday, 27 October 2008

Gathering thoughts on writing a language programme in the 21st Century

I'm currently working / thinking as I blog here - it seems to be the only way a blog post gets written (most are still in the draft folder).

Anyway, I'm trying to come up with a new and hopefully more effective approach to teaching the languages that I teach. There's a lot floating around in my head that I'm trying to gather together and create a relevant 21st Century Programme with. I am fascinated by and love the work of Andrew Churches at his Educational Origami wiki and am looking forward to a time when I can delve further into the wealth of information and ideas there. On the front page of the wiki it is written quite clearly - "Welcome to the 21st Century". Happy to be here!

But what is that for a language teacher? How can we use the Web2.0 tools available to enhance our student's experience of language learning and indeed get them speaking, reading and writing the language - being able to communicate in the language. Well firstly it brings an overseas country (where they speak the language) into the classroom. But how do I put all these tools and ideas into a programme that would be accepted? Also, my programmes at the moment are based around a textbook; do we need textbooks anymore? Do parents really need (at a school with a laptop programme) to fork out more money for textbooks when all that is in them can be found for free using the laptop? Now that's a programme I want to create and I suspect that Blooms Digital Taxonomy can help us here.

There are some great tools to aid in the lower order thinking skills (when applied to languages) - remembering & understanding. I love the simplicity and fun of Quizlet and, it seems, the students find this a very useful tool; not only do they ask to use it but I happily discovered that the Quizlet bug spread to other students in the year group who are using it in a variety of subjects (unfortunately their teachers are not yet aware of quizlet or that their students find it an effective tool for 'remembering' and thus for revision). Voki is another simple and effective tool to engage language learners.

I know I'm rambling but bear with me - I am trying to gather my thoughts and the endpoint is an effective programme for teaching language in this new era of change. For the moment, let's take it back to the beginning. To be able to communicate in a language you need to remember the vocab and understand the grammar. We'll start with the vocab. Textbooks are full of lists of vocab, usually topic based. I like topic based approaches but sometimes the vocab selected in a list is a little odd (my favourite in the text I use at the moment is 'haunted house'). So, for the next unit with my Year 9s I think I'll take a different approach; trying to make it more relevant using Web2.0 tools. The first stage will go something like this ...

  • The students will need to learn the skills necessary to use a bilingual dictionary - both print and online. I will create a lesson to show them how to best use each of these types of dictionary and ensure that they are choosing the correct word in its right context. They also need to be sure the online dictionary is an accurate and reliable source.
  • They will then decide on the words in their vocab list and work together to build a suitable list of vocab on that topic (using Google docs). My theory is that they will choose words that are relevant to them, they they would want to use. If they thought 'haunted house' was relevant and useful, then it will go into the list.
  • As they have created the list for themselves, it should be easier to remember, but quizlet can always help.
Teaching grammar is always a little trickier but I suspect an interactive whiteboard would serve as a useful tool. Hmmm... we now have one in the library. Need to install the software on the laptop and check it out.

Will have to leave this next stage for the moment ...

Flickr photo:
Scattered Thoughts, Like Scattered Leaves:-)
Flickr user: mysza831

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Make a comic strip with bubblr

I have just discovered bubblr (see above) which comes to us from the people who brought us bookr They have a number of flickr toys that enable you to create with flickr photos. For those who can't read Japanese (or see it as it's way too small), the dog is simply saying - "I want my dinner. What are you looking at. Hurry up!"

It is a very easy way to create simple comic strips - using flickr images. Simply type a flickr user name or tag in the search box and it will provide a series of images for you to choose from. The trick to this is finding images that actually relate to each other. I did find a whole heap of images of one particular dog, which I could have used to create an interesting comic strip - but my students are far more creative than me and so I shall see what they can do in the not too distant future. The comic strips or single images will of course be in Japanese or French (depending on the class) and I think a prize will be on offer for the most creative and most popular (they'll vote on this ... hmmm, could use some sort of online poll for this ...). Anyway, ideas are developing in my head and so will put together a plan and see how it goes ...

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Exploring Japanese with google maps

I am actually typing this as I experiment with google maps.

The subject is Japanese, the topic is "travelling in Japan" & the idea is to create a map in google maps with placemarks that describe various tourist locations in a city (in this case Kyoto). I have created my first placemark at Kinkakuji (The temple of the Golden Pavilion). The description is in Japanese, using vocabulary and kanji characters from the unit.

So, now I've had the idea (since my description says I took a photo there) of adding a photo to google maps. After a bit of searching and confusion (much confusion), I discovered via a google video on youtube that it's really quite simple to add a photo. In your map, click on a placemark...

1. After clicking on the placemark to edit it - choose "Rich text"
2. Click on the image icon and, in the pop-out, insert the URL link to a photo (I linked to one of my flickr photos)

So I now have a google map that describes 3 tourist locations, with explanations in Japanese, and a photo attached.

Why have I done this? What use could it have? Why didn't I simply create a reading comprehension & stick some pictures in?

Well ...

  • The students all visited the locations in Kyoto on a school trip last December so they are relevant to them
  • I will create comprehension questions for the students to answer - a simple activity (but important in gauging their understanding of the unit vocab and kanji)
  • I will embed or link to the map in our class ning so that the students can access the map from anywhere at anytime and comment on the whole process. Easy access.
  • I will invite the class as collaborators (allowing them to edit the map) and have them add to the map. Each student will be given 2 locations that they have visited and will be required to write a written piece in each placemark describing the location and what you can do there.
  • Students will then (via the ning forum) comment on each others creations and suggest grammar and vocabulary that they could have used
All in all, the aim is to engage the students with "real" Japanese. Have them create written pieces that are useful, relevant & easily expanded upon later on if they choose - as further revision, extension work or simply to use the language somewhere that it can be seen and recognized; not simply written in an exercise or workbook, marked and forgotten.

The google video that put it all succinctly for me is below:

Friday, 3 October 2008

Been thinking about ... Flickr

One holiday job I created for myself was to organise my digital photos a little more effectively - beyond uploading them to my computer, and a few of those onto Flickr. I have made progress but this all got me to thinking a little about the possibilities of using flickr more effectively in the classroom.

I have found flickr and applications like FlickrStorm & the Creative commons search really useful in finding images for the various slideshows and videos I have created for use in the classroom. A couple of flickr users in particular stood out for me in providing relevant and insightful images of Japan. jpellgen has literally hundreds of photos of Japan and for many of them he has used the ability to add descriptions / captions to your photos to include informative descriptions of the places he has captured. Descriptions could include important historical or cultural information or an explanation of signs in the target language. This and the ability to add notes to photos is surely something that we could utilise more in the classroom. Anyone can add a 'note' to a photo; to add meaning to the photo, explain something or translate something in the target language. But wait, there's more ... Adding comments to images could also help engage students in meaningful discussion of photos and their cultural or historical significance.

This could all be done in the confines of your own private group or it could be done in the public domain. I have already started to add some English descriptions to my photos and aim to write some in Japanese (for higher level students) and maybe even some in both languages.

So, in summary:

  • Use captions to provide background information on the image and its location
  • Use notes to explain details
  • Use comments to create discussion and engage
For language teachers, this could be all done in English (to emphasis culture) or in the target language. For teachers of History, Geography, English, ... the possibilities perhaps go further.

Have I missed anything? Is anyone out there already using flickr successfullly? I would love to hear of any ventures into using flickr in the classroom.